Saturday, December 29, 2012

'Being a Learner for Strategic Advantage'

I recently received a phone call from a CEO asking me about a project that we are undertaking with Alicia Curtis to engage young professionals in the leadership of organisations who provide aged care services. He wanted to understand if his interpretation was correct, he said “you are not really suggesting that someone aged 25 could sit on a Board”.
So what has this insight got to do with learning and strategic advantage? I believe that they only way you can thrive is to accept the need to be a continual lifelong learner. The Dalai Lama and H. Cutler suggest that “A supple mind can help us to reconcile the external changes going on all around us. It can also help us integrate all of the internal conflicts, inconsistencies and ambivalence. Without us cultivating a pliant mind our outlook because brittle … it is through our effort to achieve a flexible mind that we can nurture the resiliency of the human spirit”
My interpretation from the above story about the CEO is “he may have some enemies of learning”. The following are offered by Sieler (2005) as some enemies of learning, they include:
  • Jumping to conclusions – we judge or assess everything instantly and are not open to different possibilities ( often making negative judgements and comparisons)  
  • Arrogance – we cannot unlearn what we already know: too much at stake in existing knowledge, we are attached to it and close off other learning possibilities 
  • We confuse knowing with having the truth – “I’m right” 
  • We cannot (or are unwilling to ) admit that we do not know 
  • We do not give others permission or the authority to teach us 
  • Always comparing ourselves with others  - making negative judgements of self/others 
  • Addicted to answers – go to course for tips, recommendations and instant solutions. We don’t look at ourselves as a learner 
  • Lack of patience  - want it now, not taking the time to reflect and apply new learning 
  • Mood of resignation – learning will make no difference ( have given up already) 
  • We cannot recognise or admit that someone else may know
There is a flip side to ‘enemies of learning’ which I encourage you to adopt as simple strategies to help you adapt, change, develop, improve and grow. They are our ‘allies of learning’, I offer a few below:
  • Declaring your ignorance – “I don’t know
  • Declaration of being a learner  - “I don’t know and I want to learn” 
  • Humility 
  • Courage 
  • Determination and persistence 
  • Lightness and an ability to laugh at ourselves

Declaring that we are learners opens up a huge number of possibilities for us and I believe it can be a key factor in transforming organisations. If you are in leadership position and you declare you don’t know, your give authority for others around you to do the same. This step helps to create a learning environment which gives individuals and organisations strategic advantage. For a further conversation on ‘being a learning’ contact

“When should I lead?”

The question of 'when should I lead' is often associated with work roles, however I argue being a leader is not about ‘role’ but rather it is about your 'Way of Being'. The following story illustrates how the opportunity to lead can present itself at the most unlikely time and place and starts with you observing yourself and making a decision. 

I was walking with my dog at 5am the other morning when I noticed a brick wall was down and a car had crashed through it and stopped when it hit the embankment of a residential garden. There were four people present, two young people who had just got out of the car and two older people in pyjamas who appeared to be the owners of the house where the accident had occurred. I stepped over the rubble, introduced myself and asked if they needed my help.
The following forty minutes was taken up with me listening, speaking, interpreting, requesting, negotiating and making some declarations. The content was focused on the young people who wanted to leave the scene, requesting police and ambulance assistance and supporting people who were  in very different emotional states.

Reflecting on this event what a notice is leadership is firstly about the decision to take action. You may not be clear what action is required, but the decision is itself enough to give you a sense of direction. When you make the decision to act, your private conversation is “I will do something”, you instinctively make the decision to overcome you own fear and concern of needing to ‘know’ the answer. Rather than being anxious (a state that is often due to us not accepting uncertainty), you accept the uncertainty of the situation and again, instinctively move into an emotional state of ‘wonder’. Our ‘Way of Being’ is made up of our own language, emotions/moods and physiology. The term ‘Way of Being’ refers to how we are at any point in time and refers to how we are observing or perceiving the world.
This notion of the observer is important. Observing ourselves is regarded as second order learning (Schön, 1983). It is the process by which we observe ourselves observing our ‘Ways of Being’ and recognising how we can shift our ‘Way of Being’. Different ways of observing are linked with different ways of being. If we can observe ourselves and develop different ways of being in a situation we can take more effective actions, including more harmonious, productive and constructive relationships.
In an organisational context leaders are seen as people who are assessed as competent at demonstrating intra-personal (leadership of self, self-awareness, self-understanding and self-responsibility). This is the capacity and capability of the leader to be aware of themselves in relation to both their immediate actions and inherent behaviours. A leaders must be able to take responsibility and effective action to address their actions and behaviours that may positively or adversely impact on themselves and others.
So the answer to the question of “When should I lead?” is simple, start observing yourself and make the decision to act. For a further conversation on leadership, contact

Thursday, December 20, 2012

“I waste so much time due to poor human interactions”

This is often what I hear staff say. Have you noticed how much time you waste following up people who say they are going to do something and then they don’t. If you are not achieving the results you want, consider how much is due to ineffective human interaction. As a leadership coach I focus on human interactions, Alan Sieler (2005) argues that ‘Humans are conversational beings that get things done and create the future through conversations’. Various learning and development areas for organisational improvement include:. Technical (job specific skills specific to each particular profession/industry), Strategy, Structure, Process (how we do things – by what means, structures that support services to be delivered, through some skills based workshops e.g. performance management process, risk management etc.) and Human Interaction (relationships and conversations).  

A key lever for organisational transformation is Human Interaction. Anne Courtney and I design and develop leadership programs that centre on this core business process. How we relate and talk to each other has a huge impact on how well we get work done in our organisation and ultimately how we meet organisational objectives. Focusing on ourselves as human beings, on our particular roles as leaders and also how we relate and have effective conversations with each other enables people to take action together to achieve results. “Human Interaction” within an organisation explores:

  • our ‘way of being’ as leaders;
  • having authentic and effective relationships in the workplace;
  • having productive conversations to get work done;
  • using a coaching approach to develop a learning culture;
  • dealing confidently and skillfully with conflict; and
  • the unique role and responsibilities of leadership

How often have you heard people say “I am waiting on ‘A’ to deliver ‘X’”, talking is good; taking action together is better.  What really matters and defines us, is doing what we said we would do and achieving results. If you are not achieving the results you want, consider how much is due to ineffective human interaction. For further conversations on human interaction contact

Didn’t Realise You Didn’t Understand?

How many of you are only ‘half listening’ when someone is speaking to you, when you receive an email do you really understand the request? The following example illustrates what can happen when you don’t listen, understand or express ourselves in a way that is understood.

The line manager made two requests via email – one asking ‘A’ to print off the attached graduation certificates and put each of them in a frame. When she went to collect them ‘A’ had only printed two of the seven certificates. The second email went to an external catering company requesting a food order. The venue was a different location to their usual location (which was stipulated in the email) however the food went to the wrong location.

Whilst these two examples can be seen as trivial, both related to a graduation ceremony which, for the facilitators, participants and organisation was important. Rectifying these two problems took time and the coordination of effective action. Both problems related to how the request was made and listened to and the ability of both parties to listen and speak in ways that were understood.
I posit organisations are a network of conversations and that is how work gets done. By understanding that work gets done through conversation and that we bring our whole ‘Way of Being’ to these conversations, we become more effective at taking action together to achieve organisational objectives.

So let’s consider how we take action together to get things done. I invite you to think about your last full day of work in your job.  Do you remember who you spoke to? Was it on the way into your office, in person, on the phone or email?  What do you remember about that first conversation?  What was the purpose of it?  How did you go away feeling after it?  Can you remember all the other people you communicated to, one-on-one, in small or large groups? How much of your day involved communicating to others.  How did these conversations support you during your day to achieve results or to make your day more enjoyable?  Were there any conversations that were unpleasant, unhelpful or that exhausted you?  How much of your day didn’t involve any conversations and were just you working alone without any communication?

Anne Courtney and I use the simple exercise in leadership development programs to highlight how, each of us spend most of our time at work in conversations with others. Having conversations are largely transparent to us; we don’t notice that this is how we get work done.  Every conversation has the following elements present:

1. Listening – to hear and understand ourselves and others
2. Speaking – our ability to express ourselves
3. Moods/emotions – recognizing and managing our mood and the moods of others
4. Physiology– how do we hold ourselves that either supports or hinders our presence

Each element is a factor in our ‘Way of Being’. By bringing our whole way of being to conversations we are able to become more effective at taking action together to achieve organisational objectives. For a conversation contact

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Trust - the glue that holds relationships together

The following short vignette describes how trust can be easily broken. It offers insights into the various elements of trust, how we can use these elements to help us improve our relationships with others and how trust is central to our own reputation and identity.  
The line manager was on leave so the CEO was asked to approve coordinator ‘A’s’ timesheet. Upon review the CEO noticed that on two days coordinator ‘A’ had written she finished at 3.30pm. The CEO knew this was incorrect because coordinator ‘A’ had been on a training program with the CEO, which finished at 4.30pm. The CEO approached coordinator ‘A’ and asked her to amend her timesheet to reflect the additional two hours. This was ‘overheard’ by coordinator ‘B’ who ‘interpreted’ that the CEO was cutting coordinator A’s work hours. A week later when the line manager had returned from leave she raised the matter with the CEO. In front of the CFO, the line manager asked the CEO why she had cut coordinator ‘A’s’ hours of work. 
This was the first step in breaking trust between the CEO and the line manager. The line manager had interpreted the information given to her by coordinator ‘B’ as true i.e. ‘the CEO cut coordinator A’s hours. The line manager did not investigate, check the timesheets or talk to coordinator ‘A’ before she ‘accused’ the CEO of taking time off coordinator ‘A’s’ timesheet. The CEO felt aggrieved as she knew she had not cut the hours, she has increased the hours.
So let us look at the situation from a balcony
·         Coordinator B has a long-term working relationship with the line manager
·         The line manager did not intuitively think the CEO would cut hours as past behaviours by the CEO demonstrated she had worked hard to increase the salaries of all staff
·       The CEO felt highly offended and angry that she had to go through all the timesheets to prove that she had increased the hours not decreased the hours on coordinator A’s timesheet
·         No apology was offered by the line manager to the CEO when the CEO proved her ‘innocence’
·      The CEO no longer trusted the line manager as she felt that if the line manager was prepared to accuse the CEO without evidence, how was she behaving with other staff who reported to her.
So what is trust? Trust is said to be the glue that sticks relationships together. Trust is the assessment (our opinion or judgement) we make regarding the other person.  Sieler (2005) names four ingredients of trust:
·         Involvement– the assessment that others are attuned to us and our concerns
·         Sincerity – the assessment that others are genuine and authentic in their intentions and actions
·         Competence – the assessment that others have the skills or ability to take action
·         Reliability – the assessments that others are dependable and consistent
When we make an assessment regarding a person’s level of trustworthiness - this often says more about ourselves than the other person. Trust is a great opportunity for people to improve relationships by
·         Realising their view of trust is just an assessment
·         Acknowledging that if the person does not satisfy one aspect of trust for us, it may not make them untrustworthy in other aspects ( as per Sieler’s ingredients above)
So what happened between the CEO and the line manager? The CEO reflected, wrote and had some one-on-one coaching. She talked to the line manager about the situation to generate relevant, practical and powerful learning in relation to:
·         Understanding the need to investigate before taking action
·         Making the distinction between assessments ( opinion and judgements) versus assertions ( facts)
·         How trust can be broken
·         How reputations can be damaged due to others assessments and actions
This was not a petty story – what occurred had a large effect on the CEO and the line manager’s perception of each other’s integrity and can affect their identity. Our reputations are built on trust, which is central to our identity. For further conversations on trust contact